Today's test in Denver reminded of the fable about the Tortoise and the Hare.

This new-look New Zealand team shows flashes of brilliance, especially in the first half, and at times threatened to tear England apart.

But they fell apart in the second half, conceding three tries in 14 minutes as the Lions took control, eventually winning 36-18.

If the Kiwis take anything out of their North America trip, it will be about game management.


The young Kiwis were full of energy and bounce in the first half hour, breaking the England line regularly.

They scored two excellent tries, to Esan Marsters and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, but probably should have had more to show for their efforts.

England were steady early on, rather than spectacular, but limited mistakes, dominated possession and territory and earned penalties.

Their superior organisation and structure meant they gradually got on top, as mistakes crept into the Kiwis game.

Issac Luke of New Zealand. Photo / Getty
Issac Luke of New Zealand. Photo / Getty

The New Zealand side, which featured seven debutants, began to stray from their gameplan, and also felt the effects of the heat and altitude.

Kiwis coach Michael Maguire was encouraged by his teams's positive start, though lamented the way their game fell away.

"The first 20 minutes we really controlled it and they played the style of what we practised," said Maguire. "It was just unfortunate at the back end of that first half, completion rates dropped, we had an increase in missed tackles [and] the pressure on us became strong."

The Kiwis weren't helped by some crazy errors.


They sent three kick offs long, which must be a record for a top tier nation, as they didn't account for the thinner air.

Their indiscipline reflected in the penalty count (10-3), which proved vital in the energy sapping conditions.

"It's about little areas in games," said Maguire. "Moments in test matches change games.
We kicked it dead three times off from kickoffs and put so much pressure on ourselves."

Their defence, fairly impressive in the first period, became a little ragged in the second half, while their attack began to be far more lateral.

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak offloads as he's tackled by England's Jonny Lomax. Photo / Photosport
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak offloads as he's tackled by England's Jonny Lomax. Photo / Photosport

But there were plenty of positive signs.

The clutch of debutants acquitted themselves well, with Marsters, Ken Maumalo and Raymond Faitala-Mariner the pick of the bunch.

Watene-Zelezniak was electric from fullback, sparking the break that led to Marsters try and also crossing for two himself.

This match gave a platform for the future, in stark contrast to the sinking despair at the 2017 World Cup.

"The younger guys showed me we have some real depth coming through," said Maguire. "That has given me a lot to work with going forward ... I will take a lot away from that game."

After all the dramas in the buildup to this match, it was a decent spectacle.

The compressed field and the slick bouncy surface gave a different feel from a typical test match, and the teams often rolled the length of the field in one set.

Local fans in the crowd enjoyed the big hits, and must have been awestruck at some of the second phase play, with Marty Taupau, Jamayne Issoko and Faitala-Mariner coming up with some wild, but effective offloads.

The low point of the day was the national anthem — a truly awful rendition of God defend New Zealand — but thankfully that didn't set the tone for the day.

It's certainly worth another chapter, if the NRL allows, in 2019 and beyond.

"It's been a really good trip," said Maguire. "If we can get rugby league into the American market, it is going to be huge. They like contact, they like the defensive side of the game so I think it would grow if we can bring ourselves further into the American market."